I have always been slightly jealous of those who I think are better than me. It makes me yearn for equality. But, since reading Harrison Bergeron and The Lottery, I think I changed my mind. Two short stories The Lottery was written by Shirley Jackson, and Harrison Bergeron was written by Kurt Vonnegut. Jackson’s story The Lottery, in which the residents of an unidentified American village participate in an annual rite of stoning to death a person chosen among them by drawing lots, became one of the best known and most frequently anthologized short stories in English. The village where the lottery takes place is described as a normal and enjoyable community. Children are looking forward to the summer and playing with each other. Adults are friendly ‘[The women] greeted one another and exchanged bits of gossip as they went to join their husbands’ (Jackson). People are aware of the actions or diseases of other people and usually provide support to others. As a result of the lottery, the ‘winner’ was stoned to death by townspeople. Otherwise, they seem normal, not killer, but this is exactly what they do from time to time. In the futuristic story of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Harrison Bergeron the world finally corresponds to America’s first amendment that all people are created equal. In this society, gifted, strong and beautiful are required to wear headphones, respectively, heavy weights and disgusting masks, respectively. These limitations leave the world equal from brain to muscle and beauty. In a world constantly striving for equality between people, Vonnegut opens the world to which society diligently strives. Through this foreshadowing of the future, Vonnegut tries to use Diana Lunar Glampers and Harrison Bergeron as mechanisms to identify and prevent the dangers of two extremes — too equal or too unfair. Although The Lottery and Harrison Bergeron have interesting difference in characters, they have surprising similarities in the writing style and cruelty.
One difference between stories The Lottery and Harrison Bergeron is difference in characters. The first difference between the stories is in the types of static and dynamic characters. Mr. Summers had static character because he doesn’t change throughout the story, because he still thinks the lottery is a good thing. “Although the villages had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones” (Jackson). Harrison Bergeron is more of a dynamic character than a static character because he changes throughout the story. In the beginning of the story he is in jail, olive, ugly and unintelligent just like everyone else in the story. By the end of the story he broke out of jail, got killed, took off his headphones and rubber nose, so he could be intelligent and handsome. The second difference between the stories is in the types of flat and round characters. The villagers in The Lottery are flat characters who do not change during the story. The fact that we know next to nothing about them indicates that the focus is less about the individuals and more about their community’s societal values. Bill Hutchinson is a flat character because he didn’t show any emotion when Tessie was chosen. Tessie is not a round character because she lives in a society in which women have little space for any transformation. She is not flat, because she does not remain passive throughout history. There is a part of her that wants change. If Tessie were a flat character, she might not even be the main character. All good main characters are known for their struggle, their transformations and their actions; not for their inaction. Round character in Harrison Bergeron would be the Harrison’s parents, because we know what they think through the whole story, we also know their reaction when they saw their son on TV. Diana Moon Glampers is a flat character, she illustrates the evils of state control. She really has power over everyone. Her character in story is to show the inequality and corruption of the communist society. So while her character is flat, it’s important to the story.
One of the similarities between stories The Lottery and Harrison Bergeron is the writing style. The firs type of similarity in writing styles between stories The Lottery and Harrison Bergeron is irony. In The Lottery at the beginning of story, the atmosphere of an ordinary city, whose inhabitants are usually friendly and kind. But the setting is deeply ironic, because it emphasizes cruelty, hypocrisy, the inherent evil of human nature, or at least this village and nearby cities, even after centuries of supposed civilization. From the very beginning the reader has no idea what the lottery can actually lead to. Except for the murder of Mrs. Hutchinson, the atmosphere of the village seems idyllic. Thereby, the situation is ironic, because otherwise a normal town is a place of mindless murder. Even the title of the story is ironic. in particular, everyone usually associates a lottery with a winner who gains a positive experience or reward. In this case, however, the Jackson lottery does not lead to the winner, but to a certain loser who is stoned to death by the village. The character Tess Hutchinson also matters, she shows hypocrisy and human weakness. Mrs. Hutchinson first protests the lottery when her family is in danger. She ironically complains: ‘It wasn’t fair!’ (Jackson). Up to this point, Tess was an accomplice in allowing the lottery to continue, although she knows about the terrible result. She does not question the fairness of the lottery when she first arrives at the event. She has no problem with this until she and her family are in the spotlight. She then reverses her initial position and begins to denounce the lottery process as unfair simply because she and her family are in danger. Her statement about the fairness of the lottery is ironic, because until her family is selected, Tess does not seem to believe that the lottery is unfair. However, the lottery has always been unfair. In the story Harrison Bergeron we also note the presence of irony. The dramatic irony is in Harrison death. If Harrison was the strongest man and the smartest he should survive more after he run away from the prison, not die easily at the end of the story. If he was smart why didn’t he secured the place, he wasn’t smart to let the Diana kill him. There is a lot of irony about the entire central situation in the story. When Harrison was young his father and mother do nothing when the H-G men came to take Harrison. His parents just followed what they are told to do without objection, and if Hazel would reject their decision, she would directly forget where Harrison went because of she is not clever enough to follow up. Also, in major societies people who are handsome, powerful, smart are respected and they get a good lifestyle. In the story Harrison Bergeron a society makes people ugly, weak, and stupid so that they will follow the rules without rejection. It is ironic because the government made Harrison stronger with heavy weights, they made him more powerful than before, and in spite of, he dies easily at the end of the story, he should live more in those few minutes of revolution than any of the government H-G men. The second type of similarity in writing styles between stories The Lottery and Harrison Bergeron is symbolism. There are a few significant symbols in The Lottery: the black box is at the heart of the ritual. Humans often keep their darkest thoughts locked away in their minds. The black box could be symbolizing the human psyche, and explain why the townspeople’s motive for continuing the ritual killings is incomprehensible to the reader. the black box is falling apart and needs to be replaced, but the villagers refuse to replace it—another symbol of their harmful stagnancy. The paper ballots represent the citizens of this village. Both the paper and the people initially seem harmless. The villagers themselves appear to be quite neighborly, and initially, they lottery seem to be as benevolent as they are. But in fact, the people are not nice at all. Their community designates one individual wo will be isolated and then commences to murder him or her. The switch from paper ballots to stones represent the community’s change from civility to brutality, as each person in the village becomes an unrepentant murderer. Parents turn on their children’s, husbands turn on their wives, and children’s turn on their parents. In the Harrison Bergeron the biggest symbolism are the handicaps, and how they literally limit society. The weight drags them down and they constantly interrupted thoughts allow room for deep thought. Harrison is a symbol himself, but his handicaps represent the handicaps on what society could be. when he removes his handicaps, he is removing them from society, and showing what society could be. Harrison Bergeron is the symbol of a new society; of the way it should be. He achieves impossible heights, when he is free from his handicaps, much like society as a whole would if its handicaps were removed. Harrison Bergeron is also very virile. He is seven feet tall and very strong and handsome. He is the perfect specimen almost superhuman. Harrison represents the potential of society, and that potential destroyed when he gets shot. Diana Moon Glampers is the Handicapper General who requires above-average people to be handicapped, but average is really low. She is a symbol because she is the representative of the laws and what is average. People believe in her because of her mediocrity. When she shoots Harrison, it reinforces the idea of average, and the citizen’s faith in their laws. The noise in George’s radio distracts him from his thoughts, and it is the real issue of society. While he can still think of them, he cannot dwell on them. Pertinent information and thought is lost in the noise of everyday life. Today we are distracted by news and bits and pieces of information flying at us, while in the story, real thought is distracted by a literal noise being blasted in one’s ear.
The second similarity in stories The Lottery and Harrison Bergeron is cruelty. The first reason of cruelty in the stories The Lottery and Harrison Bergeron is communal violence. The similarity is that both of these stories demonstrate how people force themselves to the tradition that they were told to follow, even if they have the opportunity to look for changes and explore the negative consequences of crowd rule. In both stories, people within the community cannot think for themselves and refuse to question their biased traditions and beliefs. The ritual that is described in The Lottery, based on old traditions, not only in the city, but also in other places, does not disguise the senseless evil of the act. “Miss Jackson’s story can be interpreted in half a dozen different ways. It’s just a fable.… She has chosen a nameless little village to show, in microcosm, how the forces of belligerence, persecution, and vindictiveness are, in mankind, endless and traditional and that their targets are chosen without reason.” (Ruth, F). A person who will be stoned to death is chosen at random. There is no rational reason or excuse to single out one person in a village to kill every year, although we do not know why people do it or they have any reason for this. The problem here is that in the village, random violence is not considered unfair. If someone needs to be stoned, perhaps a random choice is the fairest way to do something that can never be fair to a victim. Tradition and superstition, as it would be foolish to try to stop participating in the tradition, seem to make sense, even if people cannot explain why. Jackson demonstrates not only the power of conformity, given that none of the citizen’s protest and question the ritual, but also the human ability to senseless cruelty and evil. In the short story Harrison Bergeron, the American Government controls its citizens using cruel and sadistic methods like mental and physical handicaps, severe death penalties for disobeying the law, and using propaganda to make its citizens blindly follow their government to ensure everyone is equal. “Diana Moon Glampers loaded the gun again. She aimed it at the musicians and told them they had ten seconds to get their handicaps back on” (Vonnegut). It shows how much the citizens are controlled by the government. Diana Moon Glampers is willing to shoot everyone that doesn’t obey her. So basically if any citizens don’t want to wear the handicap ear piece, then the government will do anything to get rid of them. The American government power over the thoughts of citizens. They are afraid that if someone were to oppose the government, their country would descent into a state of chaos which would cause destruction. It also exhibits the Government’s control over their thoughts. The couple can’t even finish the conversation because the transmitter that George wears disrupts his thought process, and Hazel has an average intelligence which means she can only think about something in a small burst. The government have so much control over what its people can think and even believe. Nothing about these people’s lives is truly their own. The second reason of cruelty in the stories The Lottery and Harrison Bergeron is elements of horror. In The Lottery the inability of the villagers to abandon the outdated lottery tradition leads to the ritual murder of the most primitive stone age. The idea is that people must remain vigilant in their actions and beliefs to ensure that they do not simply adhere to outdated and harmful agreements. In this short story, the commitment of the townspeople to the outdated lottery creates the evil of murder. In a society that should be developed enough to reject the concept of ritual murder in the hope of a favorable harvest, this Vermont village decides to take up this practice. ‘Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon” (Jackson). For villagers, annual stoning is a city institution, a cleansed victim; they can’t see the lottery for what it really is: senseless killing. Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. gives the world a look at the horrors of enforced equality through its simplified narrative. In Harrison Bergeron elements of horror is in the killing of Harrison which parents watched. Because of the shortcomings that George has, his reaction to the murder of his son is short, and because of Hazel’s “low” intelligence and short attention span, she is also not thrilled. Their son, Harrison, was absent for a long time, imprisoned by a Handicaps General. And when parents see it on TV, this happens for the first time in several months. You can imagine immediate recognition and joy when you see him, but George’s confession is thwarted by a loud sound in his head. After Harrison was shot, George went ‘to the kitchen for a can of beer.’ No reaction; death was probably quickly erased by a loud distraction in his ear; in a short time, these obstacles have already happened several times, and we understand that George can hardly think of anything directly. This includes his son. Hazel begins to cry. For a moment, she is deeply distressed by what happened, but because of her level of intelligence and memory, she quickly forgets what happened. Her husband sees tears and asks what is wrong, but she cannot remember. Closest of all, she recalls that ‘something very sad on television.’ “This is a far more chilling concept than the society of true equality, that a mother could watch her son die on television, and summarily forget about it.” (Perschon). In Bergeron’s society, people with disabilities claim that no one ever feels anything negative — sadness, sadness, suffering, jealousy, or low self-esteem. Thus, when Harrison is shot in front of them on TV, his own parents experience only brief pain before forgetting.
“Harrison Bergeron” and “The Lottery” both reveal that it is human nature to blindly want a better situation without considering all the possible outcomes. Not just in these stories, but also in reality, people want to attain an equal society, although many people do not consider how everyone will become equal, “Harrison Bergeron” answers this question. In this equal society, not everyone is born equal because this is a part of nature therefore in order to make everyone equal, everyone is manufactured to be equal. People in the society of “Harrison Bergeron” have handicaps to make them equal to people who have lesser ability or a less equal disposition. Similarly, the original purpose of “The Lottery” is hinted to have been a sacrificial ceremony for the gods, so that the crops will grow well. The people in “The Lottery” want to make the crops grow well, which seems like an advantageous idea, just as the idea of equality is in “Harrison Bergeron”. However, both societies are unable to see the consequences that could
- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., “Harrison Bergeron,” Welcome to the Monkey House (New York: Dell Publishing, 1968), pp. 7–14.
- Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” The Lottery and Other Stories. New York: Farrar, 1991. 291-302
- Perschon, Mike. “2081: The World of Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron”, tor.com, accessed April 13, 2011
- Ruth, Franklin. “The lottery” letters, The New Yorker, www.newyorker.com, accessed June 25, 2013